Friday, September 30, 2011

"Fifteen Men on a Dead Man's Chest..." and 18-25 Actors onstage at the Palace!

Arrrrrgh Maties!
It is I - Jemmy Rathborne here to tell all ye scoundrels that Treasure Island (adapted by Ken Ludwig) is comin' to the Palace Theatre.
Keep yer eyes peeled for clues to lead the way and yer ears on guard for future bits of worthy information.
I have seen with me own two eyes the dark corners of Precunier Hall at the Palace where there be auditions held and I did there witness a ray of extraordinary talent.  Think not of the price of yer ticket but instead the treasure to be found from the seats!
On the day I meeself walked through the doors of the hall, I nearly bumped into a stranger who I did come to learn was goin to be teachin' some sword fightin' for all men worthy of the challenge - INCLUDIN' - yours truly.
I have infiltrated the Captain's Blog of madame Heather May, and I have procured a space where I may inform all ye who be interested in the happenins and on goins of the rehearsals and secret meetins of all the pirates of the underworld which is Treasure Island at the Palace.
It has come into me knowledge that the first meetin' of such vile, filthy biters will be this upcomin Tuesday.
Keep watch and stay alert!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Words of Advice for Opening Night...

I do not like to give advice unless it is first asked for SO, if you would like some advice on what to do or prepare for opening night - read on; if you do not wish for advice or think you cannot possibly gain anything or expand your knowledge as an actor - stop reading and please remove yourself from the world of acting. 
A true actor never stops learning and never stops seeking knowledge. I type this, in the nicest way possible - honestly.

Three One-Act shows are coming to the Arts Project in London, Ontario this Wednesday night (which I am directing & stage managing).  Today (Sunday) we had our first full run of all three shows and it was uplifting to have so many actors and crew members show-up on time and ready to go - EARLY.  Lines have been memorized, costumes have been purchased, blocking has been rehearsed and permanently imprinted onto the brains of the actors, now, the actors have a few "last minute" homework assignemens and items to keep in mind.

#1. As an actor, you WILL deliver your lines faster than you have been duiring rehearsals.
This is for three main reasons. One is that your brain creates adrenaline which makes your blood pump faster and your heart rate increase. Your brain does this so that your body has enough energy to maintain the performance in front of an audience without passing out.  "Theatre is an exagerration of life" and as such, your body needs more energy to keep up with your larger-than-life actions and your louder-than-usual voice. The second reason is due to the reactions of an audience.  When an actor has been rehearsing the same lines for months, they quickly forget which lines are funny or may get a laugh. The first time infont of an audience soon reveals the jokes that have been long forgotten.  It is only natural to want to keep that laughter going, so, an actor will try to make other lines funny. As it is uderstood that comedic timing is quick and without pauses, an actor can unintentionally lose pauses where they have been during rehearsals.  The third main reason is the most obvious one - nerves. When performing infront of a live audience and when awaiting your cue to go onstage during a show, it is only natural to get excited, nervous and anxious.  This also causes lines to be delivered quickly.  My first tidbit of advice to actors is to be aware of this and prepare to deliver their lines slower than usual. If an actor intentionally delivers their lines slowly, they will most likely deliver them in real-time once they're onstage infront of a live audience.

#2. Don't Panic but something WILL go wrong.
As much as you try to prepare ahead of time and as often as you rehearse a play - something will not turn out the way you've planned or rehearsed - it's inevitable.  Whether someone forgets a line, skips ahead in a script, misplaces a prop, the lighting cue isn't on time or a sound cue lasts a few seconds longer than it should - deal with it.  This is community theatre people and it is rare to have a "perfect production".  As I stated, don't painc.  As long as an actor prepares as best as they can ahead of time and as long as the cast & crew supports each other NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS, you can ensure a pleasant evening.  The biggest piece of advice I can give regarding this is the following: "If you mess up but the audience didn't notice you messed up - you didn't!".  The show must always go on and if you can maintain your character and push through whatever obtacles may come your way AND if you ensure that the audience leaves satisfied - you have done your job and done it well.

#3. It's hard to believe BUT - you might "Over Act"
As an actor, you have rehearsed until you were blue in the face and all the while during rehearsals, the director has drilled into you NOT to over-act or upstage the other actors on stage with you.  In a nutshell, upstaging or over-acting means making your character louder, bigger and moreso the primary focus compared to the other actors onstage. THIS IS BAD. Actors should always keep in mind what Harry Edison once told me, "an actor should aim to be a player in the best play rather than be the best player in a play." You only shine as bright as the weakest actor in a production and though you KNOW this and try so hard NOT to do this - come opening night - you might.  This is due to hearing the first laughs and getting the first audible feedback for all the work you have done leading up to your first production. Don't let it go to your head! Stand your ground and try to remember that you are playing to the script rather than playing for the laughs.

#4. Try not to get ditracted - it's harder than you think
Many actors believe they have rehearsed so much and put so much work into their characters and lines that nothing could possibly throw them off their game. They're wrong.  No actor can prepare for someone in the front row sneezing so violently that snotty spray hits them in the face or someone's chair in the back row breaking and forcing them into someone else's lap. These are exagerrations of course but let me tell you - something may and probably will distract you. Actors should review their scripts during the run of a play - it can't hurt. And though you think you know everyone else's lines as well as your own, you never know when a situation may arise when it is you who must give another actor their cue or nudge them to say a certain line because THEY got distracted. It happens! If you think nothing can distract you - maybe you're right BUT chances are, during the run of your show, someone WILL get distracted and as an actor you WILL have to save their chops. That's one of the main difference between theatre and film by the way. NOTHING gets edited out. Work as a team to make sure everyone in the production looks good - not just you.

#5. Have fun
No one you know might show-up to see the show, a prop may go missing or worse - explode, an actor might show-up with a sudden serious case of leringitis and can only speak in a whisper, the lighting guy might go missing 5 minutes to curtain and a critic might be in the audience on the night that everything goes wrong.  It is during times like these that we all must reflect on why we got involved in the first place.  Whether we're involved with theatre because it gives us pleasure to make people laugh or we want to be a part of a supportive group working towards the same goal. Whether we need to be infront of an audience for attention or we need a break from our hectic lives (the kids, the bills, the wives, etc. lol). We are involved with theatre to give an audience the opportunity to escape and to have a night away from it all.  No matter what happens, we as the cast and crew of a production owe it to the audience (and to ourselves) to ensure that the show goes on and that everyone has a good time.  At times, it may be hard to smile and "sluff it off" but for the run of the show, we must all stick together, support each other and make sure we all do the best and deliver the best we have to offer.  If you see the director pulling their hair out, the stage manager pacing backstage or an actor biting their nails and hyperventaliting - give 'em a nudge, a hug or words affirming that they are doing a great job and that you're in this together.

To the cast and crew of "An Out of Sight Night" opening this Thursday at the ARTS PROJECT - break a leg!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Respect for Acting...AND your fellow Actors

Actors involved with Community Theatre are usually involved as a volunteer and are offering their time, experience and abilities as such for free. Having said this, one would assume that anyone and everyone who is involved as an actor would be doing it for the passion and love of acting.  How is it then that so many actors quit, don't show up to rehearsals, arrive late and don't apologize to their director and fellow actors when they have inconvenienced them all?

I must admit that I do not honestly know how professional theatre is run or what the expectations are of their paid actors.  I do however know that they expect their actors to show-up or they will be replaced by someone else.  In Community Theatre, actors cannot always be simply replaced because of time restrictions, deadlines, etc.  Most directors will choose to continue working with someone who continuously arrives late to rehearsals or isn't learning their lines or doing their homework because it's easier or because there's only a few rehearsals left before opening night. I am NOT one of those directors.

I am appalled and infuriated when an actor in MY show decides to simply "not come" to rehearsal.  I consider myself an understanding individual however, I cannot understand how an actor can NOT show up for a rehearsal, NOT call me to inform me that they won't be there AND NOT apologize to their fellow actors for not being there! The whole purpose of rehearsals is to become familiar and comfortable with your fellow actors so that when it comes to show time - you've got each others' backs.  A rehearsal cannot proceed when only half of a cast shows up.  The actors that DO show up cannot rehearse and practice acting and reacting to someone who is not there.  These missing actors are not just letting their director down - they are letting the entire production down.

People who know me as an actor or director know that I'm always saying "don't shoot yourself in the foot".  I cannot seem to say it enough and still, the meaning is lost on people.  What I mean by this is simple - if you don't do the work, if you don't show up, if you let down a single director, if you abandon your fellow actors in a single production, people WILL NOT work with you again.  Theatre is a close community (here in London, Ontario) and everyone quickly gets to know of and about EVERYONE.  If you have one actor or one director who won't work with you again, you can bet your life that they will convince someone else not to work with you as well.

I understand that things come up with work and personal life and, sometimes, an actor won't be able to make it to rehearsal or make it on time.  THIS is why each actor is given a contact sheet at the onset of rehearsals so that they can give the director or stage manager a call and inform them of the situation.  By not calling, you are disrespecting your director and your fellow actors who are depending on your being there. 

In Community and Alternative Theatre, the most important thing you can bring to a production as an actor is your dependability. NOT your acting ability. People can be taught and trained on how to express emotions, feelings and thoughts - they CANNOT be trained to show up.

As an actor in Theatre, whether it be professional or amateur, you WILL gain a reputation.  
The type of reputation you acquire - is YOUR choice.

Monday, September 12, 2011

And Now...We Wait

I went to an audition Sunday night and at the end of the audition, all 25(or so) of us were told that we would know by the end of the week whether we got a role in the production or not. Five roles are available, over 30 people auditioned for these roles, all roles are female parts and I am in the age range to play only 2 of the 5 parts available.  When you want something so bad and all you can do is wait, each 'tick' the hands make on a clock seems to take a minute to finish.  I cannot call the director and beg or grovel or tell them how dedicated I would be to any role given to me or how much I would be willing to give to the production or who's feet I'd be willing to but seriously.  I can check my email inbox every hour and keep my cell phone in my pocket so I can grab it the minute it rings -but in the end, all I can do is wait.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Before you can truly become a character - you must first know yourself.

Most characters have descriptions written directly in a script by the playwright - "he is an exceedingly handsome youth, dressed in a t-shirt, dirty jeans and cowboy boots." or "a pretty young woman with anxious lines in her face, enters the bedroom..." or even "she enters dressed in business clothes and carrying a briefcase.". A character description may go on to state the age of the character, an accent (if they have one), what they're wearing or how they enter the scene.  These character descriptions however, usually, do not state how the character walks, what they are thinking as they enter a scene, any bad habits or compulsions they may have or mannerisms they display.  It is these that take an actor from simply 'acting' to 'creating a life'.

When I am directing a play I make it very clear to my actors that, before any character notes are given, they will receive notes on themselves as actors.  During the first read-through of the script as a group and the first few rehearsals, I take note of my actors' mannerisms.  I play close attention to who they are. Do they sniffle because they have sinus issues? Do they tuck their hair behind their ear every other line? How do their eyebrows move when they are trying to think? Do they sigh during pauses? Are they a fast or slow speaker? Do they rock back and forth or side to side? Are their feet planted or do they like to travel about? Do they grind their teeth when they're angry? Do they fiddle with their hands, chew their fingernails, crack their knuckles or twiddle their thumbs? I pay attention to the small details which make them human.  I then take these notes and give them to my actors for one reason: They need to know what they do as a human being so they can either use them or lose them to create another human being different from themselves.

As I said, I am very forward and honest with my actors and reassure them that the notes I give them are not to hurt their feelings or to point out flaws.  I give them these notes because I want them to know what they do and say, how they walk and what the 'human being' that is them - looks, sounds and feels like to help them better understand who they are and what they need to do and/or change to become someone else.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Actioning: A Technique for Actors to Give Purpose to Each and Every Line

"Actioning" came from Stanislavski (1863-1938), a Russian actor & theorist who sought to enhance depth of emotion and honesty in the performances of actors.  Actioning, in a nutshell, is the choosing of a verb (action word) to think of subconsciously during the delivery of a line to another actor. One line, one sentence, one breath - one Action. This technique comes in handy when trying to find meaning to a sentence or line which is confusing or the purpose of delivering such a line is unclear.  If an actor puts action words to every line they deliver in a script, it is ensured that every line will be delivered with meaning and purpose.

When putting actions to your lines it is best to fill in the blank: "I ______ you" with a transitive verb (a 'doing' word).  To better express the effectiveness of this technique, I will use a simple line as follows: "How do you like your coffee?".  Think of the following action words prior to reading the question.
-[I avoid you] "How do you like your coffee?"
-[I seduce you] "How do you like your coffee?"
-[I disturb you] "How do you like your coffee?"
-[I aggravate you] "How do you like your coffee?"

Actioning can also prove to be extremely effective when two actors, who share several minutes of dialogue within a script, work together to create action words that can motivate and drive a conversation into a specific direction. For example, let's take an excerpt from PICNIC by William Inge:
HOWARD: [I soothe you] Here we are, Honey. [I show you] Right back where we started from.
ROSEMARY: [I puzzle you] Uhh.
HOWARD: [I encourage you] You were awful nice to me tonight, Rosemary.
ROSEMARY: [I disregard you] Uhh.
HOWARD: [I coax you] Do you think Mrs.Owens suspects anything?
ROSEMARY: [I seduce you]  I don't care if she does.
HOWARD: [I assure you] A business man's got to be careful of talk. [I praise you] And after all, you're a school teacher.  [I dismiss you] Well, I guess I better be gettin' back to Cherryvale. [I avoid you] I gotta open up the store in the morning...
ROSEMARY: [I tackle you] Where you goin', Howard?
HOWARD: [I beg you] Honey, I gotta get home.

You can take the EXACT same dialogue and give it a different feel and meaning by simply changing the action words:
HOWARD: [I disgust you] Here we are, Honey. [I repulse you] Right back where we started from.
ROSEMARY: [I avoid you] Uhh.
HOWARD: [I fondle you] You were awful nice to me tonight, Rosemary.
ROSEMARY: [I annoy you] Uhh.
HOWARD: [I worry you] Do you think Mrs.Owens suspects anything?
ROSEMARY: [I oppose you]  I don't care if she does.
HOWARD: [I ignore you] A business man's got to be careful of talk. [I cheapen you] And after all, you're a school teacher.  [I educate you] Well, I guess I better be gettin' back to Cherryvale. [I dissarm you] I gotta open up the store in the morning...
ROSEMARY: [I idolize you] Where you goin', Howard?
HOWARD: [I humiliate you] Honey, I gotta get home.

I use "Actions: The Actors' Thesaurus" by Marina Caldarone & Maggie Llyod-Williams when putting action words to my lines in a script. The book also includes a forward by Terry Johnson wich goes into greater depth & detail about Actioning, the origins, how to identify action words and select the most effective actions for a line.

Whenever you can't grasp why you say something or what your intentions are or what you want to do to another character, ACTION!